Word from the research camp is that, since 2005, there has been a 140% increase in distributed teams. With three out of four departments predicted to transition to remote work, managers are preparing themselves for the rigors of setting up and managing remote teams.
It has been 30 months since remote work, from being a luxury for a select few, has become a coveted employee expectation. Despite several studies and employees dropping hearts for remote work, many leaders still have concerns about productivity and company culture.
Recently, BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink commented that employees returning to the office could increase productivity to offset inflationary pressures, drawing a lot of flak. Looking from the lines of productivity, he isn’t alone. Microsoft’s CEO too admits that 80% of the company’s managerial layer think workers are less productive when they work from home. Increased productivity, theoretically, has many times been linked to reducing inflation. However, suggesting that employees must work longer hours and that they return to office to stay more productive isn’t true.
Many studies on remote work have negated the fears around decreasing employee productivity. Thus, if CEOs and leaders use the right tools and understand changing expectations and workplace behaviors, they too can emulate these studies successfully and set up winning distributed workforces.
Since distributed workforces and their relationship with productivity are already widely discussed, this article dispels other concerns and misconceptions about managing these dispersed teams. Over the past two years, we have learned from both experience and research that many unfound myths and fears aren’t true about this workforce model.
Here are five things that will change how you think about distributed workforces.
1. The Misplaced Fear of Giving Flexibility For Distributed Teams
Flexibility is the most coveted workplace expectation these days. Approximately 43% of Gartner’s 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey respondents reported that flexible working hours contributed to their productivity.
These teams’ isolated and distributed nature inherently accords employees with greater levels of location and time flexibility. However, employers setting up distributed teams fear increased flexibility may lead to employees slacking off.
Many studies show that giving employees more flexibility makes them more productive and happy. And this may cause concerns for employers regarding employees slacking off, moonlighting, or pursuing dual employment.
However, despite the benefits, it is entirely ok for employers to constrain flexibility with proper processes and team-level agreements in place. Through proper onboarding and communication, distributed teams can be made to understand that just because the work is remote, flexibility isn’t unlimited and unconstrained.
When managing distributed teams, set up thorough processes to ensure team members are available consistently for a few hours. This helps planning meetings and employee engagement programs better. Although this affects an employee’s work flexibility, it has more significant benefits, such as increased employee engagement, camaraderie, and morale.
2. Beneficial for fast scaling companies
Scalability is how a company can adapt to changes over time. Often scalability refers to how companies accommodate and absorb changes when they expand or acquire new projects or products.
It is often misconceived that fully remote companies cannot scale effectively and efficiently. Or that companies that transition from in-office to hybrid workplaces lose out on agility. This is because companies that grow fast require to change their administrative processes, onboarding, payroll systems, etc. Moreover, all departments must have the ability to scale when distributed.
However, many companies bear testimonies to prove that they can scale fast and efficiently with the right tools and processes in place. Multiplier’s headcount, for instance, grew to 200 between 2021 and now, with employees present in almost 30+ countries. Jack Haines, CEO and founder of a healthcare IT company, says, “My team grew 3x in 2020 and is now spread across seven states”.
With globally distributed teams, employers can lower their costs in several ways; reduced workplace infrastructure, hiring talent in affordable markets, reduced office expenses, etc. Employers can familiarize themselves with regional culture by hiring in different locations.
Moreover, distributed teams allow you to set up teams worldwide, enabling your business to stay online 24×7. For instance, employers can hire sales teams from Europe, America, and the Philippines and seamlessly engage with prospects and customers across all time zones.
3. With distributed teams, processes breed perfection
Many companies expect to scale growth using processes they use for in-office teams. However, the innumerable variables exclusive to remote work render such processes ineffective.
One example is a work assignment. When in-office, many non-tech teams use simple spreadsheets to track tasks and update statuses. With the entire team in-office, employers can sort any delays or red flags in person.
However, for distributed teams, this becomes pretty tech-savvy. Since these teams are isolated, communication needs to be done in an async manner. Documentation must be centralized enabling stakeholders to access information anytime.
Unlike in-office settings where dependencies can be acknowledged and resolved in person, distributed teams rely harder on collaboration tools to track dependency. The model works best when employees demonstrate accountability and employers trust them with their skills. Therefore, employers need to set up processes to solidify accountability and offer direction for employees to work seamlessly in an asynchronous manner.
This is why fast scaling remote companies must have an approach exclusive to the distributed context. Defining a process well can save time, effort, and money. Teams will have more direction and be able to prioritize and deprioritize tasks, making their workload more manageable. Also, scalable processes make working across time zones easier, allowing autonomy and asynchronous work.
4. Studies show that replicating collaboration and communication in a remote setting isn’t a problem
Although managers expressed low self-confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely, studies conducted in 2021 and 2022 revealed that 83% of employers reported success in their shift to remote work, with 72% reporting that their companies are planning to move to remote, either partially or permanently.
This reveals that remote work, despite skepticism and half-baked processes, is productive for employers with no troubles in asynchronous communication and collaboration.
Collaboration and communication concerns were always lingering due to the isolated nature of remote work. An in-person setting was always perceived as the right environment for collaboration and communication.
However, news flash! It isn’t.
In 2021, ADP Institute surveyed 9000 employees and employers to evaluate their perspectives on remote work. On comparing the collaboration levels of onsite, remote, and hybrid workers, ADP found that more remote workers (62%) found their collaboration to be less gossipy, more collaborative, and supportive than their on-site counterparts. Pew research also established this, where 65% of remote workers reported that online communication and collaboration tools are a good substitute for in-person contact.
For example, video conferencing tools act as a great leveler in establishing a more collaborative space for employees to share ideas. Employees also feel that these tools reduce people dominating one another.
Despite data showing that distributed teams can communicate and collaborate more effectively, employers still believe that it is still challenging to replicate onsite’s success in democratizing knowledge on a company’s growth, mission, macroeconomic conditions, workplace camaraderie, etc. Such information usually gets passed over impromptu catch-ups, water cooler conversations, lunch meetings, coffee breaks, etc. Traditionally, such discussions have also helped employees raise their social capital.
In a distributed setting, this has been dealt with engagement emails, town halls, and slack channels dedicated to updating employees with company developments, public recognition, etc. It occurs that distributed teams, too, could replicate such camaraderie. However, Microsoft’s Annual Work Trend Index found something interesting.
In its survey, Indian workers reported that being distributed has lent a peek into their colleague’s homes and families, making them more connected. 37% of respondents said that meeting their colleagues’ families through video conferencing has made work interactions more human and authentic. Surprisingly, 1 in 4 employees also cried in front of their colleagues when the pandemic blues burdened them.
Regularly conducting 1-1 meetings, pulse surveys, and feedback sessions can also help you understand what employees want. Companies also offer conference passes and tickets to regional events to help employees meet in person.
Hence, improving camaraderie is certainly possible remotely. It is just that it takes more time, repetitive recognition, and effort to replicate the success of an onsite environment.
5. Hiring, managing, and paying distributed teams has become easier
The pervasive nature of distributed teams brings challenges around imparting homogenous employee benefits, compliance, and in the case of the USA, multi-tax state registration. When you don’t have a large HR team, ensuring that all workers receive the same benefits in every country can be challenging.
In every country where a company hires or moves an employee, registeration for unemployment insurance should be done. Employers who fail to pay applicable taxes likely face sizable fines and penalties.
However, with improving HR tech, companies of all sizes can partner with Employer of Record services to easily navigate global compliance and tap into wider talent pools. With automated compliance and benefits taken care of, employers can easily handle their employees’ day-to-day affairs.